This Is Heps


From its inception — on a rainy morning in the spring in 1934 — the Heptagonal Games Association has held an important place in the collegiate track and field world with its championships noted for uniquely intense competition.

The long misnumbered moniker wasn’t always misleading because that initial 1934 meeting in the Philadelphia office of Penn athletic director H. Jamison Swarts included representatives from seven schools — the host Quakers as well as Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

Those institutions had established rivalries in the eastern leagues of both basketball and baseball years before the term “Ivy League” was coined, much less formalized. Once the track meeting began, Swarts, then the administrative figure of the Penn Relays, guided the conversation to the rare fifth Saturday of May on the 1935 calendar and soon a seven-sided meet was proposed and approved.

Heps had been born and its unveiling came on May 11, 1935, at Palmer Stadium in Princeton, N.J., with some interesting innovations. The initial agreement called for metric-based events to serve for preparation in advance of the Berlin Olympic Games. Field events were also adjusted from traditional standards as the number of preliminary attempts were reduced from six to four. There was also a premium placed on victory with an additional point given to winners, making a unique 6-4-3-2-1 scoring system.

While the metric system would not catch on for another four decades, the ICAAAA and NCAA Championships would soon adopt the reduced number of preliminary attempts for the field events and the Heps’ five-place scoring would become a standard in the sport. The League approach to relay events — undoubtedly favored by Swarts — also caught on at other championship events, fostering a team approach to a oft solitary endeavor.

Among the founding objectives of the Championships was to serve as preparation for the climatic ICAAAA Championships the following weekend, Heptagonals developed its own lore as athletes sacrificed personal performance for team success. Recording remarkable times often gave way to an athlete’s desire to score as many points as possible for the team. To this day there is little talk of national qualifying marks as the coaches and competitors focus on the undeniable reward of a Heps Championship.

The first Heptagonals Cross Country Championship was held in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx in 1939 and the men’s race has been contested in that familiar venue in 66 of the 69 years since. There was no championship event in 1944, it was held in Princeton, N.J., in 1947 and Bethlehem, Pa., in 1979.

The League name — the Heptagonal Games — would become an oddity within a decade of its establishment as World War II would have an affect on the membership. Harvard and Yale were unable to participate by 1943. Army was invited to replace them and won in dominating fashion in Philadelphia.

The following year the Cadets hosted the Heps Championship at West Point and in 1945 it moved to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., as the Midshipmen were joined by the Cavaliers of Virginia. After the war came to an end, Heps became a nine-team event with Army and Navy joining the original seven. By 1948 Heps added an indoor championship, which was contested at the historic Boston Gardens for the first three years.

The Association became a 10-team organization at the 1949 Indoor championship as the Brown Bears joined the fold. With a few exceptions, the championships would feature that configuration for the next four decades. One of those exceptions occurred in 1970 when a combination of the Vietnam War, the Kent State massacre and the Black Panthers trial in New Haven caused the team captains to make a public statement against the establishment. That public act caused the military academies to withdrawal from the event 15 minutes before it began. That situation was resolved by the following fall as the Midshipmen and the Cadets returned to compete at the Cross Country Championships.

The women’s programs began competing in an outdoor championship in 1977 with just four teams, but within two years the eight Ivy teams were contesting for the title at Brown Stadium. Army and Navy joined the party in 1983 and by that point the League championship became a full slate of men’s and women’s events.

But the 10-team championship would last just a decade as Army last competed at Heps in 1993, when both academies joined the Patriot League. Army chose to abandon Heps in favor of the Patriot League, but Navy remained a part of the Heptagonals until 2003, when the Academy’s women’s program pulled out of the Heptagonal Championships. The Ivy League Athletic Directors subsequently decided to permit only Ivy schools to compete for the titles.

The 2007 Indoor Heps were held at the New York City Armory in Washington Heights, the first time one of the League’s track championships was held in an off-campus facility in 55 years. The Ivy athletes responsed with a slew of records and hotly-contested races.

In recent years, the rotations have been Brown, Columbia, Penn, Princeton and Yale for the Outdoor Championships with Cornell, Dartmouth and Harvard hosting the Indoor event. The League also returns to the Armory in New York this winter.

69, Van Cortlandt Park [New York, N.Y.]
1, Battleground Park [Princeton, N.J.]
1, Yale Golf Course [New Haven, Conn.]
1, Moakley Golf Course [Ithaca, N.Y.]
1, Saucon Valley [Bethlehem, Pa.]
1, Belmont Plateau [Philadelphia, Pa.]
1, Franklin Park [Dorchester, Mass.]
The men’s and women’s Heps Cross Country were in split locations from 1977 to 1979 and 1981.

37, Barton Hall [Ithaca, N.Y.]
9, Gordon Track [Cambridge, Mass.]
8, Leverone Field House [Hanover, N.H.]
3, Boston Gardens [Boston, Mass.]
3, NYC Armory [New York, N.Y.]
2, Jadwin Gymnasium [Princeton, N.J.]
2, Halsey Field House [Annapolis, Md.]
1, Gillis Field House [West Point, N.Y.]
1, Coxe Cage [New Haven, Conn.]
The men’s and women’s Indoor Heps were in split locations in 1981 and 1982.

16, Dewitt-Cuyler Field [New Haven, Conn.]
15, Franklin Field [Philadelphia, Pa.]
9, Palmer Stadium [Princeton, N.J.]
8, Brown Stadium [Providence, R.I.]
7, Harvard Stadium [Cambridge, Mass.]
5, North Field [West Point, N.Y.]
5, Thompson Stadium [Annapolis, Md.]
4, Baker Field [New York, N.Y.]
3, Memorial Field [Hanover, N.H.]
3, Shea Stadium [West Point, N.Y.]
3, Weaver Stadium [Princeton, N.J.]
2, Schoellkopf Field [Ithaca, N.Y.]
1, Ingram Field [Annapolis, Md.]
The men’s and women’s Outdoor Heps were in split locations in 1977 and 1978 as well as 1980 and 1981.